I’ve always felt a little jealous of Moses. The Bible says that God "would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (vs 11) I’ve always thought about how wonderful that would be!
But I had never realized before that this statement is in the very same chapter of Exodus as this statement: "And the Lord said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence... But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'" (vs 19-20)
Those two statements seem a bit contradictory, don’t they? If God says that no human may see His face and live, yet the Bible also says that God talked to Moses face to face, which is it?
I guess it’s both. We know that being in the Lord’s presence (even when not physically seeing His face) changed Moses’ physical appearance. He would come out of the Tent of Meeting and his face was so bright with God’s glory that he had to wear a veil so he wouldn’t scare the people. So, God was probably not exaggerating when He said that to literally see His divine face would be a catastrophic event for sinful humanity.
On the other hand, God talked to Moses as a man would talk to his friend. The Bible calls that "face to face," and I think that means with openness and honesty. Instead of describing a physical aspect of the relationship, this was describing the quality of the relationship. God spoke openly with Moses. Not with signs, symbols, and parables, but in plain speech.
That’s how He wants to talk to each of us. Often, I think He is hindered from doing that because of our preoccupation with other things. We don’t have much time to talk to Him, so He must resort to other methods than the still, small, plain-speaking voice. So I will praise Him that He will use the thunder, lightning, and smoke when we need it! But His heart’s desire is to speak with us face to face, as a man talks to his friend.